Achieving carbon zero – accurate measurement, clear strategy and credible offsetting

Mike Tournier, Carbon Reduction Expert, Achilles

In November 2020, the UK water industry revealed an ambitious strategy to deliver a carbon net zero water supply by 2030; the world’s first sector-wide commitment of its kind.

Water companies now have just nine years to measure and reduce their carbon emissions to meet those targets – two decades ahead of the Paris Agreement and the UK’s national zero carbon target of 2050.

Tackling the climate crisis

Achieving a drastic reduction in global carbon emissions is essential if the world is to successfully tackle the climate crisis, preventing warming exceeding 1.5°C and halting any further deterioration to the environment. Climate change also affects crop and natural resources, causing drought and malnutrition.

In the shorter term, reducing carbon will also cut air pollution and help to improve health outcomes, preventing respiratory and asthma-related deaths.

Everyone has a stake in reducing carbon emissions – it is a hugely positive move that is not only good for people and the planet, but for profit, too. Water companies have understood the value in leading the charge on carbon reduction and the positive impact on their business as a result.

The last 15 years have seen a huge uptake in the utilities industry around the environment emergency, particularly in the water industry. We’re seeing a real groundswell of businesses wanting to measure and report on their carbon credentials. Larger companies are now mandated to report their carbon data to Companies House, however we are increasingly seeing smaller companies picking up the baton as well.

Future-proofing your business

Those forward-thinking businesses understand the positive impact carbon reduction will have on their company. They know that consumers are increasingly concerned about environment issues and expect utility companies to be doing their bit.  In an age when transparency and ethics is playing an ever-growing role in our purchasing decisions, water suppliers are choosing to get ahead of the curve by choice.

Government policy

Government pressure also plays a role – since 2018, Westminster has doubled down on its climate pledge, keen to demonstrate its commitment to tackling the climate emergency. Widespread, organised disruption by Extinction Rebellion throughout 2019 and into early 2020 encouraged a wave of activism throughout the country. Against this backdrop, the government has made clear the need for the UK to play its part. If we are to meet our 2050 target, we will need to make a huge 75% reduction in just 14 years – businesses must move faster.

Reducing carbon to cut costs and boost profit

The water industry is at the forefront of the UK’s zero carbon strategy – water companies are responsible for almost a third of the country’s industrial and waste process emissions[1] – and many large organisations are now reporting carbon data for all their companies, whether regulated or not.

At a strategic level, companies that have embraced the need to reduce carbon early are able to attract more investment as a result. Investors look favourably on their willingness to invest in new technology and strategies – early adoption is the best course of action. At some point in the future, every water business will be expected to report its carbon data – businesses that are forced to introduce new practices down the line may face insurmountable costs to do so. Additionally, from an ESG standpoint, a company that is tackling carbon will offer positive ratings from an investment perspective – not only has that business future-proofed its operations, it is also making a positive contribution to the environment.

Competitive advantage

Businesses that choose to start early with carbon reporting, with a strategy in place to make the necessary reductions, step by step until it reaches its zero carbon goal, will fare better than an equivalent business that offers the same service, at the same price, but has chosen to hold out on managing and reporting carbon until it forced to do so. Decisions made today will have a tremendous impact on future business strategy and costs,

A 2006 study led by Nicholas Stern, which resulted in the landmark Economics of Climate Change report, illustrated the cost of doing nothing or postponing the transition to a low carbon economy and was very clear that the longer a business delays, the larger the costs incurred.

However, despite the promising example set by leaders within the water industry, there is a lot of work to do. According to our data, 28% of UK utilities suppliers do not have an environmental management system in place, suggesting that there is a job to be done in educating the industry about the importance of sustainability – as well as the benefit to their business.

Financial reward via carbon reduction

While tackling carbon emissions is hugely positive from both a reputation and business operations perspective, it also has a financial element, which, for most water businesses, is equally important. Anglican Water is an excellent example – using the Achilles Carbon Reduce Programme, it achieved a £2million per annum ‘Energy Initiative’ saving through its energy focused framework, as well as £18million per annum operational savings through renewable energy generation. Carbon Reduce allowed it to benchmark, monitor and reduce its operational emissions as well as those of its suppliers.

While operating in a different sector, construction firm William Hare has also used our carbon certification programme to measure and manage its carbon footprint since 2010, achieving reductions of over 38%. As a result, it has been able to introduce measures to offset its unavoidable emissions and achieve a certified Carbon Zero status with our internationally accredited programme.

Achilles’ Carbon Reduce Programme

The Achilles Carbon Reduce Programme is a powerful ‘carbon weight loss’ tool that enables net zero delivery. Businesses can expect savings of 30% in their first three years.

For many, cutting carbon emissions and achieving net zero can feel like a large beast to tackle – but the reality is, you can’t solve what you can’t measure.

Accurate carbon measurement

Solid measurement allows management teams to look at old issues through a new lens, facilitating considered decisions on where money should be invested and what will provide the best return.

While the net zero targets for the water industry are extremely ambitious, Achilles can support your business to meet its obligations and reduce carbon emissions to zero. Experts in sustainability and carbon reduction, we help companies across the UK to achieve their carbon reduction and net zero goals.

Supply chain collaboration

Once a business has clarity on its carbon data, there are several key avenues to explore. The first is the supply chain – a water supplier cannot tackle its carbon emissions in isolation and low carbon procurement should be a priority.

Supply chain collaboration played a large role in Anglican Waters’ success – they asked suppliers to help deliver carbon reductions and made it part of their procurement process. Robust targets are in place and 46 of their main suppliers also joined Achilles’ Carbon Reduce programme. 40 are still actively involved, including engineering, construction, pumping, water treatment and solutions companies. By bringing suppliers along with them, Anglican Water saw a further decrease of 111,000 tonnes of emissions.

Anglican Waters’ David Riley said: “We have been proud participants for over 10 years. I personally see this as a really important process we go through that illustrates to our investors, our customers, and other stakeholder groups that we have a credible strategy in place and that we’ve got consistent year on year reductions in carbon.”

Measures to reduce carbon emissions

Once a business has an accurate view on its emissions data, measures can be put in place to manage and reduce greenhouse emissions at source. For large companies with multiple business units or departments, being able to drill down and see how each area is contributing is very useful. Managers can then create tailored goals for each department, tied together by an overarching sustainability strategy.

Many changes are simple to achieve, such as using digital collaboration and reducing unnecessary travel, introducing more efficient lighting or switching the company fleet to hybrid or electric vehicles. Buildings should be properly insulated and regular maintenance on equipment will avoid unnecessary replacement.

Reusable energy generation is also being explored by numerous water suppliers, along with new technologies such as the production of bio-methane from sewage treatment.

Carbon offsetting

Unfortunately, having measured, managed and reduced their greenhouse emissions, most businesses will have residual, unavoidable emission that will need to be mitigated via procurement and cancellation of ‘Carbon Offsets’. However, not all offset programmes are equal. Many domestic offset offerings fall short of the requirements for a robust financial instrument nor are currently accepted by the government as an acceptable mitigation credit. Achilles’ Carbon Reduce Certification will check the validity offset projects and ensure that your carbon mitigation offsets stands up to scrutiny, avoiding allegations of greenwashing and underwriting your brand capital and investment.

Achilles can help your business achieve carbon reduction/carbon zero to robust and legislative compliant standards, providing peace of mind for investors, and other stakeholders.

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[1] https://www.water.org.uk/news-item/water-industry-launches-worlds-first-sector-wide-plan-to-deliver-net-zero-carbon-emissions-by-2030/